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Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : I shall speak only briefly to say that most hon. Members, irrespective of which political party they belong to, agree that we should support and give aid to voluntary organisations.
I have been a member of voluntary organisations more or less since I was old enough to join one. They have been varied. My first voluntary organisation was the Cubs, then the Scouts, then the Rover Scouts, and then all sorts of other organisations. The voluntary organisations of which I have been a member for longest is the trade union
Column 1140movement. It should not be forgotten that Members of the House are here because we are members of voluntary organisations. Political parties are voluntary organisations ; we do not have to join them. We do not have to join the Church. Indeed, we do not have to join anything, but we decide to do so because we want to be active citizens and to play our part in society. On this subject, I agree with much that has been said today by hon. Members whose views on other issues would probably upset me.
The voluntary organisations in my constituency do a magnificent job. Young Church groups--of all religious persuasions, although they were started by Roman catholics--in my constituency raise money to decorate, and look after old people's houses and to be helpful to the old folk in other ways.
An excellent job is also done by the League of Friends of Walton hospital and other great hospitals. The Salvation Army in my area does a first-rate job. I am bound to admit, however, that because of the legislative changes that are being made by the Government, who are abdicating their responsibilities in certain matters, Church groups are beginning to do jobs that they should not have to do. We must get the balance right between the work of voluntary organisations and the role of the state. I do not want our society to be run by a vast bureaucratic state organisation that has tentacles everywhere, determining what people should and should not do and think. That would be the worst possible society in which to live. It would be George Orwell's "1984" writ large.
It seems that there are tendencies even in our present society to move in that direction. For example, I saw on television last night how it is possible for little pellets to be placed in animals so that they can be traced wherever they go. Human beings are animals. People might want to put pellets in us so that we can be traced all the time. It is a horrific thought. Where is it all leading? I want a society that is a combination of voluntary activity--the active citizenship of the mass of the people--with the state taking a positive role, being responsible for certain groups in society. I am a non-bureaucratic Socialist, basically what I would call a non-state Socialist. That does not mean that I do not believe in public ownership. I want public ownership to develop in many ways, adopting different ideas, but I do not want to see the creation of a vast bureaucratic society, and I would be the first to oppose such a concept.
I pointed out that I had belonged to many voluntary organisations. I will not name them all, but they include the Royal Air Force Association. There are many others which, if I am not a member of them, I have supported over the years and to which I still regularly give financial aid. They do a magnificent job. But I have supported and been a member of the trade union movement for the greatest length of time.
Whenever I think of voluntary organisations my mind goes back to 1947 when there was a great ship repair strike in Liverpool. About 20,000 of us took part and it lasted six weeks. During the first week, when the strike committee met--the whole thing was voluntary--we discovered that the local old-age pensioners' association had been used to gathering once a week at the Bootle Labour club for an afternoon's meeting. The old folk had not been told that we had taken the club over, and we did not know they were coming.
Column 1141In the event, lots of elderly people turned up for their meeting. Our senior shop steward and chairman was an Irishman named Michael Head, who had a beautiful tenor voice. He said, "We can't just leave all these old people sitting here. We must do something to entertain them. Let us put on a concert for them this afternoon". We did. He sang, some read poetry, others did juggling or played the piano. I had no idea that among the shop stewards and strikers was so much talent. It was an excellent example of voluntary action to provide the old folk with entertainment.
Throughout that strike we continued to entertain the pensioners every Wednesday at the club. They wanted the strike to go on for ever, though we did not. So popular were the concerts that more and more pensioners turned up each Wednesday afternoon. When the strike was over, many of those who had taken part in the entertainment continued to do voluntary work--not during the daytime because they were working--and, for the rest of their lives many of them went on to be involved in voluntary activities, whereas previously they had not thought much about it.
I commend to hon. Members in all parts of the House, and particularly to Conservative Members, a pamphlet on the role of trade unions which has just been produced by the Catholic Truth Society. It outlines in clear terms the importance of trade unions, and in many ways it is critical of the Government's attitude, policies and legislation on trade union activities. It points out that, in one sense, this great voluntary organisation is being undermined, even stopped in its tracks, by the type of legislation being introduced by the Government.
I supported the Solidarity movement in Poland from the day it was created. I am a passionate believer in solidarity. I do not want the Government to use legislation to stop the voluntary activities of trade unions. I do not want state-run and controlled trade unions. I repeat, I hope that all hon. Members will read that pamphlet, which is based on the teachings of the Church.
Indeed, I must tell those on the Opposition Front Bench who have been producing documents about trade unions that I wish that they, too, would read that pamphlet. It would do them the world of good because it is much better than much of what they have been producing. Such a first-class document is it that I wish they had read it before arriving at some of the ideas that they have, because they are only reflecting what the Government are saying.
Mr. Patten : I hope that I did not mishear the right hon. Gentleman's last remarks. I do not think I caught the names of the documents that he says he does not like, nor the authors of them. Perhaps he will tell the House the names of the people to whom he is referring. It is all a mystery to me, and I cannot imagine to whom he is referring.
I welcome the debate because we should give all possible support to voluntary workers and organisations. They do a magnificent job, particularly those who help in hospitals. For example, they take books to hospitals in Liverpool.
Column 1142Hon. Members should not be divided on the issue. We must not use voluntary organisations as an excuse for not carrying out the responsibilities that the state must accept. Voluntary organisations cannot solve all the problems.
We used to have voluntary hospitals, and I am glad that there were. When I was 16, I had peritonitis. If the voluntary hospital had not been there, I would not be here now. We could not continue with only voluntary hospitals, we had to establish the National Health Service. It is like building houses for people who cannot afford to buy them. There must be council house- building schemes. The state has an important role to play, but I disagree with those who say, "Do not give anything to voluntary organisations." There must be a balance between the state and voluntary organisations.
For a long time I was a chairman of a theatre group. I did not act, but that caused all sorts of problems. The actors would come to me and say, "I should have had that part." I would say, "it is nothing to do with me ; I am only running the organisation, and I have nothing to do with who is in what play." That was the Merseyside Unity theatre. Theatre groups do a magnificent job, whether they are village theatre groups or theatre groups in large cities. They all help to make life better by giving a wider view of society and creating greater understanding.
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : My remarks will be briefer than I intended, not only because other hon. Members wish to speak, but because the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) has been waiting patiently for his opportunity. I have considerable sympathy with him. I know what it is like to sit in the House on a Friday, hoping to speak, and I trust that his wishes will be more fully realised than mine have been this year.
I add to the many and well-deserved congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on securing the debate on this important subject and on an eloquent speech. I apologise to him for having missed his opening comments. I was prevented from being in the House at the time. My hon. Friend has provided an opportunity for a wide discussion for which I am sure the House is grateful.
Much has been said about the ethos of voluntary work. We are dealing with a changing social climate. I reiterate the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess). He congratulated the Government on promoting active citizenship and the role of voluntary organisations. Their achievement is more remarkable because it has been brought about at a time of national prosperity. When a nation is prosperous there is always a temptation for people to believe that the state can take care of everything because the money is available to do so. There is a temptation also for an individual in a prosperous society to salve his conscience merely by giving some of his disposable income to charity, rather than by playing an active role. I do not wish to imply any derogatory motives to people who give to charity. Without the considerable funds that charities need, they and other organisations would not be able to carry out their work. Consciences are often salved by putting money in a collection tin, or even by making a regular contribution, and the active part is too often ignored.
It is an achievement for the Government that, at a time of prosperity, they have been able to generate a climate in
Column 1143which active citizenship is regarded as an essential element of everyday life. Proof of that is the growing number of charities in the directory of voluntary organisations, which seems to get fatter each year. That implies that there is growing recognition of the individual citizen's role.
The background against which we are asking citizens to be more active is rather different from that of 20 years ago. Hon. Members have mentioned the decline in church attendance. That has had two effects : first, fewer people are available for voluntary work, and, secondly, it is less easy for people to find the help that they need. When congregations were large and a member of the congregation was in need, it would have been known by the rest of the church population--certainly by the vicar or priest--and action would have been taken before that person even had to ask. Without that base and with the increasing problem of loneliness and people having to cope on their own, there is not such a readily recognisable source of help for those who are suffering. Many of those who are driven to phone the Samaritans and take advantage of organisations that help people who are in despair, because they have not had the ready base of an extended family or of the Church.
The number of working women is increasing. That means that what used to be the natural source of voluntary work, particularly that which is most easily done by day, is drying up. With more mothers and grandmothers working, fewer people have time on their hands. I do not absolve men from their responsibilities in active citizenship, but it is generally recognised that housewives used to play an important part in social and welfare work and simply keeping an eye on the neighbours. They are no longer such a common feature of society. Also, many families are breaking up into small units, so there are not the large families with a ready recognition of needs that there used to be. That has meant that more old people look to society rather than to their families for support. More old people are living on their own rather than receiving the care and attention of a large family.
I grew up in a generation whose grandparents were looked after at home--my grandmother was at home throughout my childhood--and I feel that the change is something of a loss to society. The daily mix of young and old, promoting an understanding of old people's interests, was a crucial education for me, although I was not aware of it at the time.
Although I appreciate that today such concerns are mainly the province of the Home Office, it is essential for us to inculcate in children from the start the ethos of looking after their neighbour and trying to find what he or she requires. In my constituency, Maidstone grammar school for girls has won itself a well-deserved reputation for the immense amount of social care and loving work performed by its girls. That work is often unsung, so I am grateful to have the opportunity to publicise it today.
I did not learn of the girls' work directly from them ; I learnt of it by encountering the fruits of it, sometimes in the most amazing places. When, for example, I visited the Crisis at Christmas centre last Christmas, I was told that all the preparations--food, bedding and so forth--had been assembled by the girls, who had got up at 6.30 am on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to make those preparations.
Column 1144I thought that I had been brought up to a tradition of service, but I know that if, as a girl of 15 or 16, I had been asked to get up at 6.30 on Christmas morning, go to a relatively cold and unwelcoming place and warm it up and then do several hours' work, I would have taken a rather jaundiced view. Yet those girls did it voluntarily, and their work is deeply appreciated.
I have also visited Guide Dogs for the Blind, of whose Maidstone branch I am president. It has been trying to raise funds for a new training centre, and, indeed, has succeded in doing so. There I met the head girl of Maidstone grammar school--which by then did not surprise me, as the girls seem to pop up wherever there is such work to be done. It transpired that, not through sponsorship--that is, using other people's money--but through their own efforts and direct fund-raising, they had managed to raise enough money to train a guide dog. That is a remarkable achievement, the more so because it is only one of many. On another occasion, when I called on some old people in almshouses, I was told that the girls from the grammar school had just been round with some harvest offerings.
If every school taught such work as naturally as Maidstone girls' grammar and its splendid deputy headmistress Mrs. McCabe, we would found a society in which active citizenship would become even more important. Those girls are taught to operate as individuals. They are not part of a voluntary organisation for which collecting tins are produced ; they are putting in their own efforts. Much has been said today about the relationship between charities and the state--always a fraught relationship--but the relationship between the individual and charities is also extremely important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon spoke of the role that the citizen can play as an individual in combating crime. The one set of crime statistics that has undeniably shown a fall--although Opposition Members sometimes seek rather ungraciously to deride it--is the burglary statistics. The number of burglaries has undoubtedly declined : equally undoubtedly, much of that is due to the functioning of neighbourhood watch schemes.
We have an extremely efficient neighbourhood watch in Maidstone, and I was involved in setting up an equally efficient one in Fulham. Not only does the scheme deter burglars--which, after all, is its main purpose--but it calls citizens together, makes them aware of each other's needs and encourages them to play an active role. The alertness of an individual and his willingness to interfere and become involved is crucial to combating crime.
I am rather sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon is not present, as I am going to criticise an attitude which seems prevalent in society and which is backed up by the police and by official Home Office advice. I think that it has dangers. The following advice is enshrined in documentation from the police to the general public ; if someone tries to snatch your handbag, let it go, because if you resist you may end up with some such injury as a dislocated shoulder.
That is the wrong advice. We are encouraging a social lack of will to combat crime. The criminal will not be deterred mainly by the thought of detection, although that is important, or by the thought of punishment, because that is often much too light these days, but by the fact that he will encounter resistance. Much street robbery and opportunistic crime is carried out on the spur of the moment because the individual is convinced that he will
Column 1145not meet with resistance. Therefore, we have created a society in which girls have handbags snatched on the Underground and nobody goes to their assistance, people are attacked, or even raped, in the street, the attack is witnessed, but nobody goes to their assistance. By that advice, we are creating a social attitude that we should not become involved and it is dangerous to interfere.
There is a happy medium between the gung-ho advice of, "Have a go, no matter what the risks" and the attitude of the priest and the Levites of old, who passed by on the other side of the street. There is no need to swing from one set of advice to another. The question whether to resist an attack or weigh in to help somebody who is being attacked is an individual decision. Official advice should not be given telling us to go a different way.
There must be a social will so that where we see crime, we try to stop it by the appropriate means. There are plenty of examples of valiant old ladies beating off burglars, much to the amazement of the burglars--not the old ladies--and of crime being stopped by children and the weaker members of society who rally round to help. It is up to all of us to do so. Any incident in which somebody is attacked in public and not helped, shames us all. That is why the Guardian Angels were greeted with cheers when they appeared.
Whatever reservations my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon may have expressed about the role of the Guardian Angels, that is the citizens' way of reacting to a situation that they are no longer prepared to tolerate. Whatever suspicions he or the police may have towards the Guardian Angels, the very same suspicions were held about Securicor, which is now regarded as a respectable and established everyday fact of life and an organisation which backs up the role of order in society.
Individual alertness and involvement are as important in crime as they are in the voluntary organisations, on which much of the debate has tended to concentrate. We should consider some of the voluntary organisations and their work because through them active citizenship can support and enhance the basic work of the state.
I shall take up the offer of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon to comment on the organisation, Life. It is appropriate for me to comment on this organisation because one of its largest branches is located in Maidstone. It is tempting to think that Life merely acts as a political campaign, pressuring for the sort of changes in the law that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and I wish to bring about. However, while other organisations do that, Life has a large, ever-growing and extremely expensive-to-run charitable wing that looks after the needs of mothers who face unwanted or unexpected pregnancies.
The Maidstone branch of Life is run by an extremely remarkable man, Denis Neale. He is remarkable not only for the work that he has done for Life but for the personal circumstances in which he undertakes the work. Last year, when the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) was introducing his Bill to curb late abortions, a large rally was organised in Maidstone which the hon. Member for Mossley Hill, representatives of various churches and I were to attend. There were nearly 1,000 people involved in the rally and an enormous amount of organisation and co- ordination was involved including, for example, the co-ordination of the different churches, interest groups and charities, as well as the general public. That was a time-consuming task.
Column 1146Two weeks before the rally took place, Denis Neale's teenage daughter was involved in a car accident that left her paralysed for life. Denis Neale carried on at the wish of his brave young daughter, Vicky, and other members of his family. He continued with the goal he had set himself of organising the rally, and he has carried on since in the long-term purposes that he set himself--to make life easier for the young girls who find themselves pressurised by families into taking a course that they do not want to take. After that, some of them have to manage for themselves, sometimes in severe poverty and deprivation.
The counselling work that Life does for young girls who have been thus pressurised, sometimes, alack, comes too late. They have already had the abortion into which they were pressurised and they arrive at Life much too late, suffering from grief, guilt, uncertainty, fear and misery. In Sheffield, where Life has a massive organisation, there lives a young lady who is so distressed by what has happened that she can no longer pass the offices of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. She has been known to collapse outside them and to be an hour late for work because she has to make a wide detour around them. The state offers her nowhere to go, but she can go to Life. I hope that the friends whom she has found there will continue to supply her with the necessary support to lead a much happier life. Some needs are obvious, others are not. A part of charities' role is sometimes to draw attention to aspects that the state has overlooked but which, after a few years, it then starts to deal with. A good example of that was the charity for battered wives, who have been a fact of life for centuries without having been recognised by the state as a group in need of special provision. Erin Pizzey and the charity for battered wives drew their plight to the state's attention, and the state has since recognised it and acted accordingly.
All sorts of people work towards these unrecognised ends. We are familiar with the splendid work done by organisations such as MENCAP, which operates very effectively in Maidstone. I also commend much smaller initiatives, such as the organisation called Spadework in Maidstone. It was set up specifically to cope with the needs of mentally handicapped youngsters who, having come of age, can no longer rely on the special provision of the state but are not ill enough to be institutionalised. They need some form of activity from which to earn their living, in the same way as the rest of us. Spadework set up an organisation that sent out groups of mentally handicapped girls and boys to do gardening. They look after people's gardens and charge a proper rate for the job. The organisation is run almost entirely by volunteers ; the girls and boys must be supervised, work has to be found for them and the whole effort needs co-ordination. If for nothing else, I am grateful to them because they sorted out my garden not long ago--
Miss Widdecombe : I am sure that they would be delighted to do the hon. and learned Gentleman's garden, but it would be rather a long way to go. I suggest that he has a similar organisation set up in his constituency, whereafter I am sure the youngsters will attend to his garden first.
Column 1147Active church groups do a great deal. I am especially grateful for the work of Dave King and his support group in Maidstone, which does so much on the council estates and in the less well- off areas for those in need.
There is a wide range of support schemes for families and for the victims of crime. The state has followed the lead of the charitable sector, and it is now generally recognised that the victim's problems do not end if and when the criminal is apprehended and convicted, or when the police close the file on the solved or unsolved case. That is another example in which charities are leading the state. For all those reasons the work of voluntary organisations is important. But each voluntary organisation is comprised of individuals. One does not have to belong to a voluntary organisation to look after the needs of one's neighbour. We should teach our children from an early age to do simple things, such as doing the shopping for the old lady who lives down the road, and not just to leave the shopping on the kitchen table and go home, but to stay and talk and provide the companionship which that old lady may need. As they get older, children should be encouraged to do voluntary work, as the girls from Maidstone grammar school do. People should not use having a full-time job or having to look after a family as an excuse for non-active involvement.
We should all ask ourselves what we do for our neighbours apart from our paid jobs--I include in that Members of Parliament. Those who do not take on an immediately active role where they see need have no business to criticise the state for its lack of provision, or the number of people employed in any particular job, and ultimately have no business whatsoever to expect to rely on the neighbours whom they have not served.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : We have had a wide-ranging debate and a wide range of agreement. I agree particularly with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) who suggested that Members of Parliament should lead the way and contribute to the voluntary sector.
I was surprised that the debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) initiated so ably followed some of the lanes down which it has travelled, not least when the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) spoke. Of course he was quite right to say that the trade union movement is a voluntary membership movement, but I shall not dwell on his eloquent opposition to the closed shop. I absolutely support his last point about the theatre and the role of the arts in society. He also referred to his membership of the Cubs. I, too, started my voluntary work as a Cub and I suppose that many of us can dyb, dyb, dyb and dob, dob, dob, together. Perhaps that sums up what is best in our society--doing our best for our fellow members of society in Britain.
We have talked about the beneficiaries and the organisers of voluntary work. But the crucial, key point is the role of the individual contributing as best he or she can. Very often the individual has a role at home, looking after the family, and as members of the family become elderly or disabled, that role is extended. People also play such a role
Column 1148at work, often through the vocational nature of their work. We should not underestimate the voluntary spirit when people give up a high salary to take on a role which they feel is more rewarding to themselves and to the people whom they serve. Many people use their spare time in a multiplicity of ways, taking on the role of the professional supporter of people in the community.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) asked Conservative Members about whom we were talking when we mentioned people who played a role in the voluntary sector. I suggest to him that everyone has such a role. It is a question not of financial status, but of individual will to use one's skill and abilities. I include those who, in theory, we think we are helping when, often, they are the very people who have something to contribute as providers of support and as contributors to their fellow sufferers. We should not, for example, underestimate the role of the disabled as voluntary helpers to their fellow human beings. Everyone has a role.
Mr. Randall : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. Does he recall that at the Conservative party conference last year the Home Secretary, when speaking of the role of citizens, suggested three ways in which they could provide help--first, being a parent governor of a school ; secondly, involvement in neighbourhood watch ; and thirdly, charitable giving. How does the hon. Gentleman think everyone would fit into those slots?
Mr. Bowis : It is obvious that not everyone can be a parent governor --he or she would have to be a parent with a child at school. Therefore, only a limited range of people could fill such a slot. I warmly support the role of individuals in their children's schools, in crime prevention and in other aspects of society, and also an individual's giving to charity and charitable giving as a whole. It may be the rich man, with his eye-of-the- needle problem, who should be giving more or it may be the widow's mite, which is just as valuable. I do not wish to discuss the party conference debate last October. It is important to accept that everyone has a role. I wish to dwell for a moment on the way in which young people can contribute. Indeed, I am involved with certain organisations in that area. I think especially of an event in which I participated yesterday afternoon at the Emanuel school in my constituency, which is sited on the banks of the railway line where the Clapham junction train disaster occurred last December. I went to support the school and the many people who attended the unveiling of the memorial to the disaster, which was carried out jointly by one of the boys of the school and a survivor of the train crash. As we stood there--silent other than for the sound of passing trains below the edge of the embankment--our minds returned to that early morning when the crash occurred. We remembered the way in which those young boys and their teachers immediately went down the embankment, at some risk to themselves, to give comfort and succour. They were, first, saving lives ; secondly, comforting the injured ; and thirdly, supporting the rescue services. They did that not because they were organised to do so, but because they perceived a need. They understood how they, as individuals, could respond to that need, and they did so. It is an example of the best in our society when people of all ages, under all conditions, perceive a need and respond to it.
Column 1149While standing on the embankment during the unveiling of the memorial I was reminded of another occasion some years ago --less publicised and less sung--when there were great winter floods. At that time I was staying in my in-law's village in Warwickshire. The brook overflowed into nearby houses, one of which was occupied by an old lady. The village joined together and found shelter for her. However, that was not the end of the story ; it was not just the British coming together. That lady's next-door neighbours, a young couple, went into the house and took out all the damp and ruined items, dried what was reclaimable and replaced those that were not. They then got out their pots of paint and redecorated the house so that when the old lady returned she would feel that it was her home, and not experience the aftermath of disaster that makes such experiences so much more traumatic. That is an example of young people perceiving a problem, believing that they could put it right and doing so. Earlier this week, I visited the Cancer Research Campaign, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). Every year it holds a major fund-raising event in Battersea park. I was there to present prizes and publicise the triple challenge that will take place this summer. It is a tremendously successful organisation that raises millions of pounds and is almost self-sufficient. The event was a combination of a professional fund-raising organisation and two sponsors, to which I pay tribute--Whitbread and the London Broadcasting Company. I pay tribute to the role that local radio stations play in London. LBC and Capital Radio have fine charitable connections with Battersea park. A well- run charity, industry and young people came together to raise money for a problem that they understood. My hon. Friends rightly said that people understand because, sadly, problems are brought home to them through their families and friends.
I was speaking to an organisation earlier this week called Projects by the Blind (Wandsworth), which is in my constituency. It provides reading and newspaper tapes for the blind and partially sighted. It provides a centre for companionship for such people during the day and offers creative work for those who can manage it, some of whom are partially sighted and some completely blind. The organisation has an element of self-help supported by the community. I used to call it "Projects for the Blind", but it proudly said "No, we are called Projects by the Blind". The blind help themselves with society's support. With a little help, pump-priming and back-up, such people are able to contribute to their wellbeing.
I work with other organisations that go way beyond our national shores and deal with the problems of the world, such as Hungry for Change and Results. They aim to find solutions to the massive global problems, and its results are so huge that one might find them difficult to comprehend. If it is broken down into the cost of saving a child's sight or rehydration tablets to cure diarrhoea, which can cause death, and one considers the cost of immunising a child, one realises how simply and cheaply British people can assist by saving or adopting a child elsewhere in the world.
If we can persuade individuals that there is a problem, as soon as they are aware of it, they understand it. If we can achieve solutions that are manageable to them, we shall begin to get movement. There is a range of problems, many of which have been mentioned in the debate, but there is a range of solutions, some of which cost nothing.
Column 1150It costs nothing to assist someone who is being attacked in the street--a matter that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone. I mentioned the boys of Emanuel school. It costs only time and effort to help.
Support, by means of cash in kind, is required from the public, various agencies and local government. Sometimes the cost is vast. Sometimes the cost is in terms of assisting the carer to take a break. We know about the virtues of respite. That is a form of pump-priming that we should not ignore. If money is directed towards solving the problems at a level that people can understand, they will respond and we shall begin to overcome some of the problems. Hon. Members have referred to the difficult balancing act that has to be performed. There is a danger that state support can sometimes supplant the voluntary spirit. We need to examine the extent to which the state is taking over the solving of problems. Individuals who previously were involved and who would like to be involved again in voluntary work no longer feel that they are wanted and needed. There is a danger, as voluntary organisations increasingly become the agents of central and local government, that that feeling will grow.
Mr. Randall : Based on my own experience, I see exactly the opposite trend. In my own city, the financial constraints that have been imposed upon local authorities as a result of rate capping and other measures have led to the local authority's role being considerably diminished.
Reference has been made to the voluntary hospital services. The hon. Member for Walton referred to them. When there were cottage hospitals the local community was very willing to support them. However, when cottage hospitals became part of the regional health service, the local community began to feel that they were no longer welcome and that they could not continue to support such a small part of a vast organisation.
I am not suggesting that we should go overboard either way ; we have to get the balance right. Too often nowadays the first question asked by a voluntary organisation is, "Who will fund us?" The first question used to be, "How shall we raise the money?" Voluntary organisations now say that they want full time staff and premises. It is getting slightly out of balance. We ought to concentrate on those who benefit from the services and ensure that the resources that are available are devoted to them.
Society has to be careful about the extent to which it interferes. I support and have a high opinion of the dial-a-ride service. Unfortunately, it is now in danger of becoming bureaucratised. The need is seen to be so large that it is beyond the scope of any individual or voluntary organisation to cater for it. Consequently, the dial-a-ride service is looking to national and local agencies to provide support.
Another danger is that the bureaucrats tend to dictate to the users of the services what is in their best interests. The users of the dial-a-ride service are disabled. On the whole, dial-a-ride is very good at listening to the disabled because it is a local service. Increasingly, however, as London Regional Transport takes over the management of dial-a-ride in London there is a danger that it will want to provide a neat package that is suitable for the whole of London. It does not want to hear about the preferences of disabled people in my part of London. The service is in danger of being swallowed up by bureaucracy. The
Column 1151individuals whom we are seeking to help will suffer. There has to be a balance between the desire to assist and the rights of the individuals who are being assisted--the right of the disabled to mobility. Without wishing to take matters too far the other way, we must get the balance right between the individual contributor to charity and voluntary work and the role of the state.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone said, if we are considering ways in which the individual can become more involved, we must go back to the schools. She rightly highlighted some of the schemes at Maidstone grammar school, where the girls do great community projects. I also wonder whether we should not look at the role of children within schools. In my day, there was a far greater role for the pupil in the management of the school, cleaning, washing dishes and helping with the grounds, play areas and sports fields. I do not want to undermine the role of the school caretaker, but children seem to be brought up to assume that everything will be done by the caretaker. When they become householders, they will look at the snow that has fallen on the pavement, on which old people could fall, and they will say that it is the role of society to clear the snow. As President Kennedy said, we should ask not what our fellow man can do for us, but what we can do for our fellow man, and that is the message we want to put across.
Another aspect of voluntary work is that concerned with crime. I point out to my hon. Friend the Minister that nowhere in London shows better success in beating crime than my area of Battersea. The police, the community, Wandsworth council, local firms and residents' associations have all got together to defeat crime. That is an example of voluntary action supported by the state locally and nationally.
I also support the point made earlier about the role of industry in supporting projects. In Battersea, a firm called Skillion decided that it would play a part by sponsoring some of the clean-up of the River Thames. It persuaded me to join various young people from Manpower in taking out some of the rubbish from the river bed. That was a splendid operation and should be repeated by other firms locally. In Wandsworth, we have signs which say, "Wandsworth the brighter borough environmental improvement scheme." Wandsworth council does that because it is a well-run council. I suggest that firms could do that as well, and we should then see signs saying, "Woolworth encouraging the brighter borough with the improvement scheme." Why should not the firms that became involved take some of the credit?
Moving up the age range, I wonder why we do not make more use of the skills of retired people. As the age of retirement comes down, so there is an increasing reserve of skills we should use. In further education, those practical skills are already used and secondary schools could do the same, as could the many areas of need in the community. I suggest to my hon. Friend that he could promote through his colleagues the idea that every local authority should build up a register of skills and volunteers available, which should be tied in with the needs of the voluntary sector. Such a register would bring everybody together in the community to contribute and we should have played a valuable part.
Column 1152I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this topic. As Members of Parliament, we see the best of voluntary organisations in our constituencies and we see some magnificent work. If we come back to that moment at Emanuel school, we see that the best work of all is when an individual sees a problem and goes out to do something about it on his own initiative.
Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston) : I join those who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on the motion. I am sorry that I could not be here for the early part of the debate.
I particularly welcome the way in which my hon. Friend has worded the motion. Too often our discussions of voluntary organisations turn to thoughts on what they should or should not be doing, on which there is a division of opinion. Some fear that voluntary organisations will carry out functions that should more properly be carried out by public bodies, while others appear to suggest that they should be carrying out functions that could be carried out by public bodies under their statutory powers.
I particularly welcome the fact that the motion simply celebrates the existence of active citizenship and voluntary activities. That is an appropriate emphasis. Judging by my constituency experience there is a mass of flourishing voluntary organisations of all sorts--on the whole happily and effectively doing what they set out to do and not particularly worried about the discussions that I have just described. They can see that there is a job for them to do and they get on with doing it.
I am fortunate in having two remarkable voluntary organisations in my constituency which provide me with accommodation for my surgery. Unlike many hon. Members, I suspect, I hold my surgeries in premises owned by voluntary organisations. That is a way of showing the importance that I attach to their work.
I was interested by what my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) said about the role of a voluntary activity in keeping law and order. I share her reaction to what was said when the Guardian Angels came to England recently. It was interesting to note that, whatever the official reaction may have been--from the police and other authorities, there was quite considerable support among the public at large for the idea of active citizenship as represented by the Guardian Angels. I am aware that American experience of the work of the Guardian Angels varies but when I went to the west coast of America, I found what I saw of their activities impressive and thought that it justified the public's reaction.
I welcome the greater emphasis on volunteer work by the Metropolitan Police. In areas of south London the police have accepted a role for a form of special constable working with neighbourhood watch schemes. That is an interesting development which could well be copied by other areas that are interested in incorporating the services of volunteers in the process of keeping law and order. Similarly, I am interested in the announcement made in the past few days about a new type of volunteer in the Metropolitan police, who will be dressed quite differently from a police constable, in a uniform that the public can easily identify as being that of a volunteer.
Column 1153I was interested in the exchange between the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) about the extent of involvement throughout the community in voluntary work and in the concept of whether there was any social limitation on the activity of the active citizen. I share completely the attitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea that there is a role for the active citizen throughout the community. I believe that, wherever one is living, there is a role for the active citizen.
I would like to stress the role of the active citizen in relation to the environment and to pay tribute to the work of the amenity societies throughout the country and to the Civic Trust. I have been heavily involved for many years in the amenity society where I live. I believe that the environment of an area very much reflects the activity over the years of active involved citizens. Areas with consistently active citizenship in relation to the environment and proposals for an area have often managed to retain their character and their amenities and have reasonably sympathetic forms of development around them.
In areas where that is more difficult, there is still a role for the active citizen. In the past two or three years I have been especially concerned with the problems caused on council estates by thoroughly anti-social tenants. Very often, a minority of anti-social tenants makes life a misery, rather than a pleasure, for a great number of people living around them, especially in blocks of flats, but also on housing estates. I am delighted when I see one or more residents prepared to stand up to that conduct--to complain, to organise neighbours to bring it to a stop and, if necessary, to galvanise the local authority into taking action, if necessary by threatening or bringing eviction proceedings. Unless such anti-social behaviour is tackled, very often there is little remedy for the living conditions of the people concerned. It is a counsel of despair to say that all the others should move out and get transfers rather than be willing to face up to the problem in the first instance. I applaud those active citizens who are prepared to take action and to give evidence against anti- social tenants.
I am happy to say that the local authority in my area is eventually prepared to respond, where it is satisfied that there is a sufficient number of people genuinely concerned about the behaviour of anti-social tenants and willing to give evidence and to do something about it. That is an important element of active citizenship which applies in places where living conditions are extremely difficult. The role of an active citizen is potentially one of great importance when it comes to improving such an environment for large numbers of people.
I welcome the debate and I associate myself with all the remarks about the importance, the role and, indeed, the flourishing character of voluntary organisations. However much time we may spend developing and talking about statutory functions, which must inevitably happen in parliamentary debates, it is good that we have spent some little time talking about those things that we would regard as fundamentally important and, perhaps, even more important than many of the matters that we have to spend very much more time discussing.
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Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston Upon Hull, West) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on bringing this motion before the House today. It has been interesting to hear the views of hon. Members of all parties, although I note that most speeches have come from Conservative Members. That is probably because this subject was promulgated by the Home Secretary last October when he made a major speech at the Conservative party conference on the active citizen in the context of crime prevention. Three hon. Members have made particularly interesting points. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) talked about getting the balance right, which is at the nub of this whole issue. Although we have heard hon. Members of all parties talk about the various organisations that we all have in our constituencies and the benefits of them--the Christian ethic has come through strongly--I believe that there is a strong political element at the heart of this matter and that is what I should like to address.
This is a philosophical issue. The hon. Member for Wimbledon made an excellent speech in getting his case over. I am not saying that I agree with him, but he made a number of philosophical points that I should like to address. Essentially, I believe that at the heart of this matter is the balance between the role of the state and that of the voluntary organisations.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way because I have waited all morning for the privilege of raising this point. Today I received a letter from the Scotttish Council for Voluntary Organisations, expressing great interest in this important debate and enclosing a five-point charter for the voluntary sector. I should like my hon. Friend's comments on two of those points. The first point relates to the acceptance of the voluntary sector as a complement to, not a substitute for, state provision. The second point relates to the need to recognise that independent voluntary sector comment is vital to our democracy. In other words, voluntary groups should not simply be seen to be participating actively in communities ; they believe that people's views about how to shape our society and about Government policy are also important. Does my hon. Friend agree with those observations?
Mr. Randall : Yes, I do. There is no doubt in my mind that there can be no dispute about the importance of the active citizen and the voluntary organisations in which such people tend to work, although of course, they do not belong to organisations. There can be no dispute across the House about that matter. I would support general acceptance of that view on democratic matters.
A number of philosophical points hinge on the question of balance. I believe that individualism must be allowed to flourish ; that bureaucracy must be controlled and that people who work in the areas to which hon. Members have referred must be given every opportunity to do their job properly. What we have seen from the Conservative party--this is where it becomes political--has been its expression of the way in which the roles of the state and the voluntary and charitable organisations fit in with its views of Victorian values and with the notion of Lady Bountiful dishing out the goodies--
Even newspapers such as The Sunday Times, which is hardly a Labour- supporting newspaper, are expressing views about the shift towards Victorian values and philanthropy being the thing of the day. Towards the end of his speech, the hon. Member for Wimbledon said that during what he claimed to be the present period of greater prosperity, the well-off should share their financial benefits with others. His remarks had a philanthropic ring about them.
I refer to the notion that the wealthy--the top 2 or 3 per cent. who have done very well thank you out of the Government's tax regime--should help out and give. We have heard how charitable giving has been on the increase while the role of the state has been cut back, all expressed in terms of the removal of the dependency culture and so on.
We have an ultra-capitalist Government who are very Right-wing--that is clear and nobody would dispute it--and who are pursuing avidly their philosophy of rolling back the frontiers of the state. That has been manifested in the way in which local authorities have been constrained. Indeed, the whole of the public sector has been constrained and, as a result, we are witnessing the failure of large areas of social policy. That, in turn, is causing a breakdown of law and order.
That is why a Home Office Minister has been present throughout, and will reply to the debate. This is a home affairs matter. The Government see the voluntary organisations as the mechanism to overcome anti-social, criminal, unacceptable behaviour in society. That is what it is all about, and the Home Secretary made that clear at the last Conservative party conference and at a meeting of the Industrial Society earlier in the year.
We have heard some commendable speeches, and the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) made a balanced and moderate speech.
Mr. Randall : It is sometimes awful to receive praise from the opposite side of the House. The hon. Gentleman made a wise speech which fitted in with the direction in which we should be going. There was, however, in his and other Conservative speeches, a certain amount of goody- goody stuff, and I say that not in a disparaging way.
Hon. Members have been addressing the whole question of the ethos of how individuals should operate in society. If Conservative Members want to see pupils cleaning the schools-- [Interruption.] I remember serving the custard during school dinner time. I am not complaining about remarks that have been made on that score or about the need for people to have a feeling of responsibility. The Christian ethos came through, and I totally support that.
All of that was good stuff, but until my right hon. Friend the Member for Walton spoke, I felt that the debate was rather off-beam, with the Conservative argument being presented with emphasis on their ultra- capitalist way of running the economy, with their obsession for the market, which is causing a breakdown in society. The degree of homelessness, crime and so on is making many